When I ask Mariano Alesandro (our Head of Future Thinking and Tech at INDEX: Design to Improve Life®) what virtual reality (VR) is going to really mean, he says:
“Think back to when you first used the Internet. You opened your computer, clicked Explorer and then you opened your browser. What you saw was information simply depicted as text on the screen.
Then think about how you use the Web now.
Your music, photos, movies, and work are all on the Web.
Your appointments, flights, and hotels are all booked over the Internet. You read your books online, your doctor can operate via the network, relief is produced by the network, and a very large part of crime takes place over the Web.
Think about virtual reality changing your life in the same way that the web has.”
There has been talk of virtual reality for decades. Films like The Matrix, Transcendence, and Total Recall have conjured up some images of how VR will work.
But virtual reality is yet to fully materialised for the average user – until now.
On 10 November, US company Oculus, owned by Facebook, released the Gear VR headset. At the cost of approximately DKK 700, Gear is the first professional virtual reality headset, working with a Samsung smartphone, widely available to consumers. Along with Gear, Oculus launched a range of other services, including Oculus Video, where you can watch Netflix movies from 20th Century Fox, and videos on Vimeo with Gear or Oculus arcade – where VR video games can be downloaded.
Just one month later, Oculus then confirms the long-awaited commercial release of the Oculus Rift – offering the full, upgraded VR experience – costing around DKK 3,000 to 4,000.
So, with the Gear and Rift now offering virtual reality to the world, what can we expect to experience?
Whether you enter your favourite video game, jump into a far-off destination and become part of a film, or just spend time with family or friends via VR – you’ll feel like you’re actually there. In virtual reality not only can you see and hear a simulated world, but soon you’ll able to smell, taste and feel it – like the heat on your skin from the sun or the coolness of a gentle breeze.
What will this new reality mean for the world? The short answer is that we don’t know yet. But we can speculate.
My guess is that three major changes will arrive almost immediately.
The first change will be the emergence of new markets. Let’s look at an example:
I’m sitting in Copenhagen and will be meeting with a Brazilian designer. Neither of us have to time to make the long commute, so we decide to meet via virtual reality, and we would like to meet at a particular beach in Bali.
With the task of arranging the meeting, I log into a virtual version of our chosen beach. The weather is quite warm, and I’m sure we’d be much more comfortable in some deck chairs, rather than perched in the sand. So, in my virtual space I go over the menu where I can choose furniture. I choose a large parasol and some luxurious recliners – which I book at a small cost. And we hold our meeting via these perfectly customised conditions.
The second change, that I anticipate will immediately emerge, is the new way to test everything. Including new materials, colours, compositions, and processes. Meaning that manufacturers can test all new products without having to physically produce anything.
This also means that you can test your purchases before they are realised. For example, a new sofa can be virtually tested in your home. Your new bike can be tested both on the bike path and off-track, and your hotel room can be tested before booking.
This VR testing will not only lead to more customised and efficient trade for both producers and consumers. but, It will also LEAD TO A HUGE SAVING OF resources.
The third change that will quickly come to fruition is in the health sector. The largest immediate benefit will be teaching purposes, where health workers can be trained, and for example, learn to operate without posing any danger to patients. Already available is the HumanSim, where healthcare professionals can interact with patients and colleagues in a realistic interactive environment – constantly receiving feedback on their performance.
New opportunities in diagnosis and surgery are also made available by VR. Robotics and simulations will have a major impact in ensuring that all surgeries are conducted flawlessly.
Finally, we can anticipate that the treatment of phobias and other psychological issues will also eventually take place in VR scenarios.
New markets, new testing methods and a completely changed health system are just a few things we can speculate today. But, we still don’t know what virtual reality is really going to mean.
Right now, the only thing we do know is that VR is arriving with full force. And as Mariano says – it will change our world as much as the Internet did. And when it’s a question about the future, you can usually rely on Mariano.
Image by Sergey Galyonkin.